Sincerely, Fear

I was feeling unsure of myself and my work recently and fear was getting the best of me, so I asked fear to tell me what it was worried about. Here’s what it said:

You should be careful what you say. The work your doing is making people uncomfortable, and some people might not like you because of it. There are people in your life who are probably wondering what the heck you’re doing.

Have you thought about what might happen if you offend someone, or piss people off?

What If you lose your licence to practice –  how are you going to make a living?

You worked really hard for a really long time to get to where you are, don’t blow it. 

Sincerely, Fear

After learning what my fears were, at first  –  I almost didn’t believe it.

These are ridiculous, I remember thinking. I couldn’t believe these were the things that were stopping me from writing and doing my work.

My guess is that your fears aren’t so terrible, either.

If we want to get better at dancing with our fear  – the ability to understand our fears and push through them –  it’s important for us to know what fear is and why it happens.

Here’s the truth about fear:

  1. We all have it. It’s that unpleasant feeling we experience when we believe that someone or something is dangerous to us. It’s an emotion that makes us want to stop what we’re doing to avoid the pain of what might hurt us.
  2. We’re hard-wired for it. It’s a feeling that has kept humans alive for thousands and thousands of years. How else would our ancestors have survived the wilderness?
  3. It never goes awayEver. 
  4. Most of us don’t know what we’re afraid of. One of the hardest things in life is to tell the truth about our struggles.
  5. When we don’t acknowledge our fears, they control us.

Fear wants to keep us safe. It wants us to avoid anything that might make us uncomfortable or at risk. Which is a bit of problem in today’s world, because fear doesn’t know the difference between a threat that can kill us and a threat that might subject us to transient discomfort. Fear can’t tell whether we’re driving in a blizzard or standing up for what we believe in. Both of these situations can cause the same feelings of threat.

It’s helpful to fear passing a car around a corner, or to fear eating expired food, smoking cigarettes and standing under a tree in a thunderstorm. But it’s not that helpful to be afraid of not being liked by everyone or to be afraid of being vulnerable with the right people.

When we don’t know what we’re afraid of, we often feel overwhelmed and stressed. Before I asked my fear what it was afraid of, I felt trapped. But once I put my fears in writing, they didn’t seem so bad. Even if some of my fears come true – and some have –  they’re not going to kill me or end my career.

When we’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, confused, ashamed, disconnected or torn between who we are and who we want to be, understanding our fears can help us make better decisions – decisions based on what we hope for instead of what scares us.

Welcome the fear that keeps you alive, but ignore the fear that pretends to protect you –  especially the fear that stops you from doing work that matters to you.